Bacon is salt-cured, thinly cut pork from either the belly or back of a pig. Bacon is a staple in many Western diets and well loved for it’s salty taste. A versatile meat, it can be served crispy or chewy, on its own, as a flavour addition to dishes, on wraps and sandwiches and even on desserts. Bacon may be delicious and high in protein, but it is a processed meat high in fat, salt and cholesterol, which has been linked to heart disease. The fat in bacon is on average 40% is saturated fat and it contains nitrates and nitrites, which when cooked turn into carcinogens, which have been linked to an increased risk for various types of cancer.
Health concerns are one reason people may look for bacon substitutes. People who follow halal or kosher diets for religious reasons are not able to eat bacon. And of course, those who follow a vegetarian, vegan or peascaterian diet do not eat meat and will want meat-free bacon alternatives.
Meat bacon substitutes
There are many bacon substitutes that are still meat, these include turkey, salmon, venison, duck and more. In Australia the two most common and readily available are turkey bacon and salmon rashers.
1. Turkey bacon
What is it: Smoked turkey meat cut thinly and cured to resemble streaky bacon.
How similar is it to bacon: This is the most similar swap to bacon as it is also smoked and cured and has a meaty taste. The texture is very similar to bacon.
How to cook: Turkey bacon can be fried, baked or microwaved.
Nutrition: Turkey bacon is a lean meat and contains less calories and fat than bacon but it is still a cured meat and should only be eaten in moderation. 15 grams is approx 60 calories, 4.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fat.
Where to get and how much: Turkey bacon can be bought from supermarkets, such as IGA, in Australia. The prices is approx $6 for 375g.
Make at home: No, turkey bacon cannot be made at home. It is best to buy from the shops and prepare at home.
2. Salmon rashers
What is it: Smoked salmon portions, sliced thinly to resemble bacon. You can also use regular smoked salmon and season to your tastes.
How similar is it to bacon: The resemblance to bacon is similar but the taste is still distinctly salmon-like. Salmon rashers can be cooked to be crispy texture like bacon.
How to cook: Salmon rashers can be pan-fried or baked. Smoked salmon can be seasoned and eaten as is.
Nutrition: Salmon is high in omega-3 and low in fat, making it better for your heart and waistline than bacon.
Where to get and how much: Most Australian supermarkets stock smoked salmon for approx. $7 per 100g. Tasmanian seafood brand Tassal make salmon rashers, check their website for stockists.
Make at home: No, salmon rashers cannot be made at home. It is best to buy from the shops and prepare at home.
Vegetarian and vegan bacon substitutes
There are many vegan and vegetarian bacon swaps out there. Most are much healthier for you than bacon and can easily be made at home with a few key seasonings like bacon seasoning, liquid smoke, tamari and paprika.
3. Tempeh or tofu
What is it: Tempeh and tofu are both soy products. Tempeh is made by directly cooking and fermenting the soy beans, while tofu is a soybrean product and processed to be different textures (such as soft tofu or firm tofu). Tempeh and tofu bacon are vegan, but not suitable for anyone intolerant to soy.
How similar is it to bacon: Both tempeh and tofu can be turned into bacon by thinly slicing into ‘rashers’ and seasoning. Tempeh has a more firm and bumpy texture and is easiest to turn into crispy bacon, while tofu can be turned into chewy bacon.
How to cook: Slice thinly into strips, season and bake or pan fry until browned. As mentioned, tempeh will crisp up, while tofu will remain chewy.
Nutrition: Tempeh and tofu contain much less fat than bacon and are cholesterol-free. Both contain protein. It’s important to note that they can still be high in salt and fats depending on how much oil and salty seasonings you use. On average, a serving is only 22 calories, which is much less than bacon.
Where to get and how much: Tempeh can be purchased from health food and specialty stores, either online or in-store. Tempeh and tofu are also available in major supermarkets and the average price of $4-$5 for 300g, making it a cheap swap.
Make at home: Tempeh and tofu require a bit of elbow grease to make at home. We recommend buying from the shops and preparing to become bacon-like at home with these recipes: tofu bacon or tempeh bacon.
4. Vegetarian bacon
What is it: There are many brands that have created vegetarian bacon. These include products like Vegie Delights bacon-style rashers, Tofurky and soy bacon. They are pre-packaged fake bacon (also known as fakon) substitutes designed specially for non-meat eaters. Check packet ingredients to which brands are vegan.
How similar is it to bacon: Vegetarian bacons are very similar to bacon in terms of texture and taste, after all, they’re designed to be!
How to cook: Pre-packaged and easy to prepare, pan-fry or bake until crisp or chewy, depending on your preference.
Nutrition: Vegetarian bacon doesn’t contain the harmful fats and salts in pork bacon, but they are still processed so best consumed in moderation.
Where to get and how much: You can purchase vegetarian bacon online or from most major supermarkets, brands and styles will vary, prices start at $5.
Make at home: No, vegetarian bacon cannot be made at home. It is best to buy from the shops and prepare at home.
What is it: Thinly sliced mushrooms, cooked until crisp and ‘meaty’. Shitake mushrooms are the best variety to use. Mushroom bacon is vegan.
How similar is it to bacon: Mushrooms, especially shitake, have a meatiness to them that make them a great swap for bacon.
How to cook: Thinly slice mushroom caps, toss in olive oil, seasonings and bake until crispy.
Nutrition: Very low in fat and calories, rich in B vitamins and cholesterol-free, mushroom bacon is a great healthy swap for bacon.
Where to get and how much: Mushrooms can be purchased from all supermarkets for approx $12 per kilo.
Make at home: Yes, mushrooms can be turned into bacon at home. Thinly slice and season with bacon seasoning or smoky flavourings until it reaches the desired bacon taste.
6. Coconut bacon
What is it: Coconut flakes seasoned and baked until crispy. Coconut bacon is vegan.
How similar is it to bacon: Best used as a vegetarian substitute to bacon bits.
How to cook: Use large coconut flakes and season with bacon seasoning or smoky flavourings and bake or pan-fry until crispy.
Nutrition: Coconut bacon may contain little protein but it’s low in calories and cholesterol, and high in vitamins and minerals.
Where to get and how much: You can make your own at home, or buy online here for $8.45 per 60g.
Make at home: Yes, coconut can easily be turned into bacon at home. This recipe explains the process of making coconut bacon.
7. Eggplant bacon
What is it: Thinly sliced eggplant that is seasoned and cooked to bacon-like texture. Eggplant bacon is vegan.
How similar is it to bacon: The look and texture of eggplant bacon is similar to pork bacon but the taste is quite different and certainly not meaty. Eggplant is a great adopter of flavours though so season it well and you’ll swear it’s smoky bacon!
How to cook: Thinly slice into ‘rashers’ lengthways and salt for 20 minutes to draw out any moisture. Mix smoky seasonings of your choice with olive oil and apply to eggplant rashers, covering both sides. Then bake for 20-30 minutes on a low temperature until crisp and brown.
Nutrition: Eggplant bacon is a healthy alternative to bacon. Low in fat, calories and cholesterol, it has lots of vitamins and minerals. The only downside is it’s low in protein.
Where to get and how much: Eggplant is available at all supermarkets and farmers markets for approx $8 per kilo.
Make at home: Yes, eggplant can be turned into bacon at home. Thinly slice and season with bacon seasoning or smoky flavourings until it reaches the desired bacon taste, then bake. This recipe for eggplant bacon is a simple one to follow.